I started this blog almost exactly 5 years ago, when I was fortunate enough to win an orchestra position with the San Antonio Symphony, and I found myself wondering how best to share the things I was learning in my yoga and anatomy trainings. In the last few years, many things have changed, both in the musician wellness field and in general, and it’s interesting to reflect on those things.
More people are talking about musician and performing arts health in general. Although professional musician injuries are still a taboo topic, the conversation is changing. Some public articles about musician health have also made these issues more apparent, such as Janet Horvath’s article about hearing loss and numerous national publications about health and music.
More learning is being done online, whether in musician health, fitness, stress management, or other fields. That brings offerings to a wider audience, and many of those offerings are free, such as blogs and podcasts, which can also help those in less populated areas, or distant countries. One of the most humbling things about running this blog has been seeing the many readers from different countries, far beyond what I ever imagined!
With online learning comes online course offerings and digital media. While many digital courses are thoughtful, reasonably priced, and supportive, others are incredibly expensive, whether it’s a $600 course on performance strategies, or a $100 two hour workshop on the shoulders. When courses are this expensive, it makes me question the idea of bringing content to a wider audience accessibly, and can make it difficult to sort out the really high quality offerings from the overpriced ones.
More musician health courses are being offered in colleges, high schools, summer camps, and other places of learning. As a trainee in Andover Educators, which offers Body Mapping courses and classes, I’ve seen the growth in their offerings alone, in conjunction with other disciplines such as yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, and more. Yet, many of those offerings are a one day workshop, rather than a longer format class. I’d love to see more schools adopt a semester long course offering, as well as have resources on staff, such as a physical therapist or massage therapist.
The musician health field is changing in terms of awareness of injury potential, but many older musicians are not educated on self-care, anatomy, and injury prevention, which not only means that they are more prone to having playing related injuries, but they are not always able to offer solutions to their students. In addition, most established symphonies do not have a strong health focus- adult musicians are ultimately left to their own devices to manage a health concern, injury, or maintenance.
Musicians, as a community, are starting to address some of the mental health challenges of our profession. Extreme stress, anxiety, perfectionism…these are just some of the challenges of a performance career. More resources are definitely needed, but I’m happy to see the conversation at least begin with offerings such as Dana Fonteneau’s, of the Wholehearted Musician, or Travis Baird’s Dynamic Music Teacher offerings.
Musicians are also starting to discuss orchestral auditions- the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the classical orchestral path. John Beder’s 2016 documentary, Composed, paved a new path for discussion about this, with a huge range of interviews with different musicians internationally, as well as a successful documentary tour that visited numerous colleges, conservatories, and symphonies.
Musicians are also starting to look at how to help children and younger students set up and learn their instruments better. Jennifer Johnson’s two books on violin instruction and body mapping have helped support this notion.
As a community, we are also starting to discuss sexual violence, power, greed, and assault. While these issues are certainly not resolved, the fact that they are even being discussed and acknowledged is huge progress. Many people in this field have known about certain teachers, performers, or conductors’ inappropriate behavior, and those issues are finally being discussed and taken seriously, after being covered up for decades.
The idea of musicians as movers is becoming more accepted- similar to athletes and dancers, musicians fundamentally use their body for both art and small muscle athleticism. Yet, both dancers and athletes have a certain retirement age of 30’s-40’s, whereas musicians are expected to play throughout their life. Dancers are often taught kinesiology, anatomy, and self-care classes throughout their dance career, and I’d argue that musicians should also be educated on the body, given that we need to make a career out of it for 30-40 years from the age we go to college. More bodyworkers, chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors, and movement educators are seeing the work we do as musicians, and are interested in helping, which is fantastic!
There is still much work to be done, but it does give me great hope to see change in the field overall, and that more people are interested in learning about their own body, and how to have a long lasting healthy career in music. In my own life, I left my section viola position in San Antonio to freelance in Seattle this past year, and have been overwhelmed and grateful for this change in dynamic. I have a wide range of pilates clients and am able to both teach pilates, yoga, and work with musicians, in addition to maintaining my performance career, and I believe how helping musicians move better and feel better is absolutely critical to sustaining classical music from the inside out.